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Hazel Parson

This article first appeared in issue 21, and was written by Ed Waggener.

When she wrote a letter to the editor, she sparked a movement to save Columbia from the ignominy of being hereafter known as a prison town; she's confident that somehow, she'll win

Hazel Parson was devastated when she heard on the radio and read in the local newspaper: Governor Paul Patton had announced that an 85-bed, maximum security prison for juveniles would be built here. It would be located behind her church, in view of her property, in the middle of her neighborhood in Columbia.

She was disheartened, as were most of the congregation, when her pastor, Rev. Jon Carnes, said that he would feel uncomfortable leaving his wife and daughter at the parsonage if the prison were built. He's since moved, and Bro. Carnes says there were other reasons for his leaving, Yet there is a gnawing feeling that the looming prison played a role in his departure.

She was concerned when the subject became the talk at church.

Unlike many other Columbians too timid to speak up, at first, Hazel Parson did something. "I called people around the community to see how they felt, and what I learned was that most were strongly opposed to the prison and that only one couple favored it and one other family had a sort of laissez-faire attitude toward it.

"I felt the need to write a letter to the editor. I thought about it a lot. Then I sat down and wrote it."

That Sunday afternoon her son, Somerset orthopaedic surgeon Dr. B.J. Parson, came by for a regular visit. Mrs. Parson asked him to critique the letter. "Mother," Dr. Parson told her, "I don't see a thing wrong with it."

The letter was printed and immediately drew enthusiastic response.

"People called to congratulate me for the ideas I expressed," Mrs. Parson recalls. She knew she wasn't alone, she said, and was even sure that a majority opposed the prison.

A threat to her dream home

Hazel Parson has led a wonderful life.

The house she is living in today on South Kentucky Hwy 55 is the only home she and her late husband Robert Campbell "Possum" Parson owned.

Their only other residence was the temporary stay in an apartment on Wall Street while the late Mr. Gid Alley built their home.

It was their dream house. It was constructed on 7.5 acres they had obtained from the Barger Bros.-Ores and Eros-next door to her family homeplace. She is the daughter of the late William Robert and Nora Sullivan Kilpatrick.

The house was built on a pretty knoll above the road on a lightly shaded parcel amid mostly oak woodland.

In summer it was surrounded with her flowers and the garden in back, with the woodlands providing a peaceful backdrop.

In winter they have a beautiful view from inside their home of perhaps Adair's most magnificent valley; and in the summer, the stand of the oaks still allow the valley view from the outside.

Now that view is threatened forever, with the prospect of a maximum-security prison, replete with 18-ft. chain link fences, guard towers and prison lights sullying the once so comforting scene.

In a way, she goes against the too pervasive passive attitude of so many of her fellow citizens. The attitude which says, "Nothing can be done about. I'm not wasting my energy."

The Parsons have lived at 1561South Ky Hwy 55 since 1948.

Their son, Billy Joe, was born there. It was his only childhood home.

It is the home they were living in when Mr. Parson had to retire in 1971 and their home when he died, of a massive stroke, on November 30,1977. He was 68.

It was home while he went through Adair County High School, Lindsey Wilson College, Western Kentucky University and the University of Louisville School, and on into residencies in orthopaedic surgery at UL, Charlestown, SC; Ft. McClellan, Ft. Gordon, Jackson Memorial, and Ft. Knox.

It was Billy Joe's homeplace when he married Gwendolyn Jennice Golden. And it has been Grandmother Parson's Place for the four Parson children, Ashley, 21, a senior at the University of the South in Sewanee, TN; John, now 20, and in his second year at VMI; Sarah Elizabeth, 15, a sophomore at Southwestern High in Pulaski County, and Jessica, 13 and a seventh grader at Meece Middle School in Pulaski County.

It is the home where Mrs. Parson lived when she, herself, retired from teaching in 1971.

The spotless dwelling is a almost a shrine to family. The family story hardly needs to be narrated as one views the hundreds of photographed memories on the wall, on counters and shelves in her home.

You need not have Mrs. Parson tell you that Robert was a "soldier and a politician." You see that in the proud display of his portrait in WWII dress khaki uniform. You know from the photos and you remember the photos when she tells you that her doctor son is also a full colonel commanding the Reserve Hospital Unit at Lexington, and served in the lst Armored Division in Desert Storm, and that unit was his father's WWII Division. And you know Robert Parson had proud Republican political ties with Old Fifth District Congressman Tim Lee Carter by the inscription on the photo he gave them. You see that without Mrs. Parson telling you of Robert and Tim Lee's comradeship on the basketball team at Lindsey Wilson College, or of the political jobs he held as a deputy sheriff with Sheriff George Simpson or the years on the school board when John Dunbar was Superintendent.

No. You do not even need to be told that these four beautiful children are her grandchildren. You read that in the family photographs, the pictures so many that you cinematically see them grow, in almost time-lapsed photography. Strong, bright eyed, beautiful children.

You need not be told that this is a patriotic family. Nothing has to be said. You see on the small table the quiet display of the Danbury Mint miniatures of the White House, the Capitol, and the Supreme Court Building. You don't have to hear Mrs. Parson tell you, "These represent the three branches of government: The White House is the Executive. The Capitol the Legislative branch. And this is the Supreme Court Building, representing the judiciary." You also sense it in the larger angel figurine, given Mrs. Parson by her granddaughter Sarah Elizabeth, which watches protectively over the symbols of United States greatness. "I call it a guardian angel," Mrs. Parson says.

You walk through the home and you see the certificates, the accomplishments, the graduation photographs and you know that this was a home where intellectual pursuits were revered, where there was a strong respect for learning.

You sense a reason. You need only hear an outline of the details to know why this is so:

A wonderful school teacher mother whose first school was at Barnett's Creek, a job she got when Adair County School Superintendent Clarence Marshall promised teacher Anna Pearl Beasley that she could have another teacher at the school when the school would average 50 students for one whole month. It did. And Anna Pearl Beasley chose Hazel Kilpatrick to be her assistant, starting a career which included stints in mostly one room schools around Adair County, including:

-Pleasant Hill School at Montpelier,

-New Liberty School, located behind what is now Adair County Superintendent Al Sullivan's home beyond Glens Fork, near Crocus.

-Little Cake, and

-Frazier School at Purdy,

-Hopkins (University) at Christine, where she didn't teach Pewee Sinclair because the other teacher, Kathreen White, had that honor.)

-Bloomington Chapel, on Snake Creek Road.

-Sulphur Springs, out near Cane Valley, and then,

-Columbia Junior High, up on Graded Hill in town, and finally,

-John Adair Middle School, where she taught the likes of Joe Flowers, Joe David Myers, and Danny Waggener. "A bunch of good kids," she says.

And you sense that your growing admiration for this warm, witty matriarch of a great family is for a woman with still other great strengths.

They were strengths which let her excel in overcoming the economic hardships we all went through in the depression and war years.

But the uncommon strength which let here overcome colon cancer eight years ago, which prompted her church to honor her with a Hazel Parson Day on July 28, 1991 sets her apart. On that day, not only were Bro. Cline, the pastor, Hobert Wilson, the Sunday School Superintendent and church member Mayor Pam Hoots on hand and spoke, but also educator Bill Rigney, her son Dr. B.J. Parson, and Dr. Oris Aaron.

It was an emotional day of victory.

You know all this from a walk through the home.

You know, as she does, that this is something worth preserving,, that this is a home in a neighborhood worth saving from the incursion of an unwanted prison.

This story was posted on 1998-07-15 12:01:01
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